Defamation Guide for Libel & Slander in North Carolina: Part 1 – What is Defamation

What is Defamation, Libel, and Slander?

Defamation is defined as an injury to one’s reputation caused by any false statement of fact. The key factor of a defamation claim is falsity, meaning the statement has to be false. It cannot be a truthful statement.

In North Carolina there are two types of defamation recognized:

  • Libel - false statements made in a written or digital format.
  • Slander - false statements made in a verbal, spoken form.

Even though libel and slander mean two distinctly different types of defamation it is not uncommon for individuals to use the word “slander” as an all-encompassing term when referring to defamation. Other terms commonly used for defamation may include “character assassination” or “disparagement”. Regardless of the name used, understanding which type of defamation you are dealing with is critical as each type has different legal requirements that must be met when seeking relief. Failure to follow those specific guidelines can result in consequences.

North Carolina Defamation Cases

We all know that negative statements are hurtful, both emotionally and at times, financially. However, determining if a statement made against you is actually defamatory, and if the person making such a claim is liable can be a complex inquiry. Individuals pursuing defamation cases generally hope to recover some type of damages from the wrongdoer, however, not all cases meet the burden needed to prove defamation. There are strict requirements in place to defer individuals from frivolously filing lawsuits against others for expressing honest criticism and opinions. And in a world where social media is a big part of our lives, everything is public, and unfortunately, most statements made online are forever, however, which ones are really defamatory?

Determining what Statements are Defamatory

At the core of the definition of defamation is whether the statement is false. If a statement can be independently verified as either true or false, it will be considered actionable. This is contrary to statements that are something of an opinion, which are not actionable, and persons are not held liable for statements of opinion.

In North Carolina, whether dealing with slander or libel, the law recognizes two different categories of defamation:

Defamation per se - Defamatory per se statements are those that are inherently damaging to one’s reputation and need no additional context to be understood as defamatory. In addition, due to the inherently damaging statements, damages for these types of statements are presumed, therefore, it is not required to show actual damages. These statements can include:

  • Stating someone has committed a crime;
  • Stating someone has an infectious disease;
  • Statements to discredit or impeach a person’s profession or business; or
  • Stating someone has stigmatized a sexual act, or had an affair.

Defamation per quod - In contrast to defamatory per se statements, defamatory per quod statements are not as apparent, and require context to explain their meaning. This would be a statement that would be defamatory only if a random third party has all the information. For example, knowing you were married if someone accuses you of having a relationship with someone other than your wife. If the same were defamatory per se it would simply be that you were having an affair. The term “affair” on its own provides relevant information that you are married without any other background context.

Are You a Private or Public Plaintiff?

In a defamation case, it will be necessary to determine which type of Plaintiff you are, a Public or Private Plaintiff. Your status in the community and society will determine this and depending on which one you are, the requirements for the burden of proof needed will differ

Most individuals are private plaintiffs, meaning they have not voluntarily placed themselves in the public eye, and are not subject to public commentary or scrutiny. Public plaintiffs are those who are public figures and have voluntarily availed themselves in the public eye, such as celebrities, politicians, and other famous persons. For public plaintiffs, since there is a public interest in discussing their affairs without fear of repercussions, they face a steeper burden to prove defamation. In addition, public plaintiffs must prove that defamatory statements made against them were done with actual malice.

Defamation law is riddled with nuances and strict guidelines that must be carefully followed. At DeMent Askew Johnson & Marshall, we not only understand the hurt that comes with being publicly defamed but also the laws surrounding defamation. We will provide you with honest feedback about your options to ensure you are able to make informed decisions about restoring your reputation. Our attorneys are skilled defamation attorneys, with over 40 years of experience. We hold the record for the largest award in a defamation verdict ever in North Carolina. If your matter is compensable and collectible, we can help you too.  Use the button below to access our Defamation Evaluation.

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